Bust a move
Breakdancing brings bright eyes to Pang, and could cut crime in Clyde
Getting a teenager up by 8:30 a.m. on a Saturday morning is no easy feat.
But Pangnirtung kids turned up in droves at the school gymnasium earlier this month when the Canadian Floor Masters held a week-long hip-hop workshop, to the amazement of some parents.
“Some parents were commenting they had never seen their kids so eager to start at the morning,” says Margaret Nakashuk, who helped bring the breakdancing troupe to town.
What’s more remarkable is that the same children who usually shuffle about town with bored expressions were seen smiling, with bright eyes, as they listened to Stephen Leafloor, better known as Buddha, as he explained the finer details of how to spin on your back.
But Leafloor is more than a breakdancer – he’s also a social worker who wrote his masters thesis on how hip-hop can be used to reach out to disaffected youth.
“When I’m talking about suicide or violence in the home, I can see their eyes well up,” he says.
Hip-hop – a broad term that covers rap music, break dancing, graffiti art and street fashion – grew from the activities of disenfranchised black kids in the Bronx three decades ago.
“It’s like the rest of the world forgot about them. Sometimes, I’m sure that’s how it feels in Pangnirtung,” Leafloor says.
Music videos by rappers such as 50 Cent tend to glory a “thug life” of sex, drugs and violence. But Leafloor says the real value that hip-hop should encourage is respect – for yourself, your family, your crew. And booze and drugs only get in the way if you want to improve as a breakdancer.
Leafloor says the workshop also teaches kids about dealing with anger, and “accepting people for being different.” That’s important for many of the shy, withdrawn kids in Nunavut he’s encountered.
“Life is about risk taking, whether it’s wearing that piece of clothing that you might get teased for, or on the dance floor, trying a move you might get teased for,” he says.
Even when someone attempts a back spin and winds up doing a “bum spin,” Leafloor says, “we big that up,” with hooping and hollering. And the kids feed on the energy. “It’s really empowering,” he says.
“Fear of failure is why we don’t take risks,” he says. “It’s only failure if you perceive it to be that. The fact you’ve taken a risk, you’ve already won.”
In Clyde River, where the Canadian Floor Masters visited for a week in August, residents believe hip-hop may help curb vandalism, theft and substance abuse in the community.
Since the workshop, about 60 youth have continued to gather in the community hall, three nights a week, to practice breakdancing. That turnout “is pretty amazing,” says Jakob Gearheard, who works at Clyde River’s Ilisaqsivik Centre, “considering our population is about 800.”
Igah Sanguya, the community health representative, says she’s received fewer reports of teens sniffing glue since the hip-hop workshop was held.
She’s also noticed the teens who attend the hip-hop practices are more bright-eyed, smile more, and possess more self-esteem. “They find they can do things,” she says. “It seems to help in every way possible.”
Gearheard agrees. “It’s definitely changed some lives,” he says.
“It’s just been getting stronger and stronger.”
So there’s much excitement about the return of the Canadian Floor Masters to Clyde River next week.
Melanie Morris, who runs the Inuktitut literacy program at the school, says her class has been busy preparing rap lyrics, in Inuktitut and English.
Widespread community support for the hip-hop activities in Clyde River is a big reason for its success there, Leafloor says. During his last visit, elders even tried their hands at spinning records. “The message is, wow, look at great grandma, she can still have fun,” he says.
Next week, elders are expected to be even more involved, and weigh in on discussions on social problems and values.
The Floor Masters will also be joined by a drum dancer and throat singer from Pond Inlet, Tommy Peterlosie and Karen Killiktee.
Leafloor says it’s important that Nunavut’s kids learn to not simply mimic what they see on television. For example, he tells kids he doesn’t like gold, so he doesn’t copy rappers draped in “bling.”
What’s far more cool, he says, is how an Inuk friend is carving his name, “Buddha,” in caribou bone.
“That’s what I’ll wear to New York City with my silver chain,” he says.
The Canadian Floor Master visits are paid for with funding from Brighter Futures and the Solvent Abuse program, and assistance from Nunavut’s departments of education and justice, and Canadian North.